See how red wine is made with an easy-to-follow infographic. How is a red wine made? Harvest grapes, smash them up, and watch as yeast turn the grape’s sugar into wine.
Step 1: Grow Grapes & Harvest Them
A grapevine produces grapes after its third year. Regardless of the vine’s age, grapes only grow on stalks that are one year old. Because of this, viticulturists prune their vineyards back every year to encourage new growth.
Grapes get harvested for wine when they are perfectly ripe. Unlike other fruits (like avocados or bananas), grapes don’t continue to ripen once they’re picked.
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Step 2: Crush The Grapes
Typically, destemming red wine grapes reduce harsh-tasting tannin. Additionally, some wineries use sorting table conveyor belts to remove leaves or bad grapes. By the way, some red wine varieties (like Pinot Noir) do well fermenting with whole clusters!
Grapes go into a fermentation tank with their skins, seeds, and all. Sometimes, the crushed grapes are chilled (called “cold soaking”), so flavor and color in the skins transfer into the juice. Red wines get their deep color from their grape skins.
Step 3: Fermenting Grape Sugar into Wine
The fermentation starts when a yeast culture grows by eating grape sugar and making alcohol. There are many different kinds of yeast variants. Some wineries let yeast happen naturally, and we call this an “indigenous” or “native” fermentation. Others inoculate their juice with a special house yeast or purchased commercial yeast to control the flavor.
Red wines typically ferment at warmer temperatures than white wines. Also, red wines commonly ferment until all (or nearly all) the sugar is consumed. This makes red wines “dry” (as in, not sweet).
Step 4: Fining and Racking
After the wine finishes fermenting, it’s quite cloudy from the yeast lees and grape bits. So, winemakers let their wines “rest” a while in barrels or tanks and add a clarifying agent (like bentonite – a type of clay) to glom onto dissolved proteins. A process called “fining,” and it leaves the wine clear.
With all the proteins in the bottom of the tank, the clear wine gets “racked” (it’s more like siphoning), into a fresh tank or barrel.
By the way, some winemakers avoid fining and wait for the wine to settle on its own with time.
Step 4: Filtering, Aging, and Bottling
Red wine can age from 4 weeks to 4 years (or longer!) before being bottled. Aging red wines in barrels gives them rich flavors of vanilla and baking spice from the oak.
Before wines get bottled, they’re often filtered one last time. Filtering removes any small microbes that cause wine to go bad. Of course, not all wineries do this because some believe filtering removes what makes a wine taste so great. Well-made unfiltered wines have the potential to age a long time too.
So, when you buy unfiltered wines, be sure to decant them!
About the Artist: Jelle De Roeck works as an architect at his own office and teaches Architecture and Design at the University of Leuven, Belgium. In 2011, he pursued his passion for wine through research and illustration. Instead of taking complicated wine courses, he blogged on specific themes to learn more.